We left just after 9 o’clock for Dover for our 1.55 sailing. We had waited for Adrian to phone the insurance company as he had discovered last night that we were only insured for 6000 miles and we were already on the way to that.
Our plan is to travel to Poland, and maybe beyond, driving back to Geneva in early August to go to Simon & Laure’s.
It had been an extremely wet summer so far, with some lovely weather in March, a few hot days in May, and since then mostly rain!!
Our preparations had been more than busy, with the past two weekends taken up with HCC activities - the National Rally near Bedford, and then ‘Hooray Henley’. We’d then dashed down to Paul & Nicky’s at Chantmarle to celebrate Joanna’s 2nd birthday and also Felix’s 12th birthday and Emma’s birthday.
We’d spoken on the phone to Simon, who was off with his family to Canada for a holiday next week, returning the day before all the ‘Cape’s’ descend for the camping weekend in August.
Tom had finished his teaching term in Barcelona, and was presumably away, as we hadn’t heard from him since then.
Then yesterday we’d had a new freezer delivered at 7.15 am, as Adrian had found that the old one wasn’t working properly!
We had a trouble free journey to Dover, stopping at Clackett Lane services for coffee, and arriving at Dover at midday, where we could see the cliffs and the castle through the sea mist!, We wondered why the official was taking so long looking at our booking but then he said that we could go on the earlier crossing at 12.55. This was good news, but meant that we had a hurried lunch.
In fact the ferry left a bit late, but the crossing was beautifully smooth, and uncrowded, and the weather was lovely & sunny.
We reached Calais, and were on the road at 2.40 (now 3.40), following a vintage sports car off the boat. We also kept passing a lorry with the name ’Fagan & Whalley’, which amused us!
It was now cloudy, and as we reached Belgium ¾ hour later it began to rain. We had thought how different it is travelling on motorways - last year we had come this way on smaller roads by the coast, which were much more atmospheric.
We pulled into a pleasant rest area with grass and picnic tables (for fine weather) for a cup of tea and ‘fairling’ - a ginger biscuit from Emma and Barry from their recent SW Coast walk.
We looked up a (free) place to stop for tonight an hour or so further on, from the book Adrian had bought (written in German). He had said something about ‘unless this rain gets really bad’. Well - it did - it became torrential, with floods and hold ups and was very slow, and quite horrid!
By the time we turned off, it had stopped raining, and was dry - but it was black all around, and the rain was on its way again!
It was nice to drive through some ‘real’ places, but we had trouble in finding the place we were supposed to stop at - the directions weren’t very clear, with two names given for the actual place with the parking facility. We pulled into a parking area in Rupelmonde, beside an imposing huge church, while Adrian tried to locate the actual stopping place.
We then proceeded to Kruibeke, where we thought that the parking place was. This wasn’t easy, as the storm had now caught up with us, and road works meant that the roads that we wanted were closed. It was now getting late, and we were tired and hungry. Not the first night that we might have imagined!
When we came to a rough area near the centre of Kruibeke, we pulled in and got ourselves a drink!
While I prepared supper - of bacon & mushroom omelette, using ‘Peruvian blue eggs’ from our HCC friends at Henley - Adrian looked up on his computer, and decided that the place we should have stayed at was back in Rupelmonde! No moving now, we stayed put, as the rain continued!
Friday 6th July Breakfast in Belgium, coffee in Holland, lunch in Germany (and a magical evening) 261 miles
There was more heavy rain in the night. We were woken at 7.00 am by the loud bells from the huge nearby church. The morning was very grey and wet, but we enjoyed being near the centre of a small Belgian town. We always think of Belgium as being rather grubby and dowdy, and certainly there were no flowers to brighten this place. It seemed a mixture of France, Germany and Holland in the past, but was still atmospheric. We left just after 9.00, and stopped by the bakers for ‘brood’ and a bun. It was a lovely place, but we weren’t sure what language they were speaking - Flemish maybe, so we just pointed, but the assistant appeared to speak English.
We skirted Antwerp, which was very busy, and by 10.15 we were in Holland, which appeared much smarter. The last part of Belgium had been very green and peaceful. It became busier as we rounded Eindhoven. At Venlo we turned off, hoping to get some diesel before entering Germany, but the petrol station we tried was out of diesel! At least they had a picnic table, and we were able to sit outside, (although the sun which had just come out, now went in) to have our coffee, and tasty pastry from the bakers.
Almost immediately we were into Germany, at 11.30. We soon turned off to a ‘B&Q lookalike,’ where Adrian was able to get some glue to re-stick his reversing mirror, which had become unstuck just after we had left yesterday. The difference from this place and English B&Q is that here, there was a superb bakery stall just inside the shop (we bought a cherry pastry for later), and a greengrocery stall outside beside the ‘Wurst’ stall. We bought strawberries, blueberries and carrots.
Just across the road, Adrian was able to buy diesel, and we bought milk from the little shop which also had a nice little coffee place.
We crossed the Rhine near Duisburg, and were then into the busy and industrial Ruhr area, which wasn’t very pleasant. We had a nice surprise when we turned off at a picnic area, which we had expected to be crowded, and were able to sit outside at a picnic table, which was quiet, and away from all the traffic. We enjoyed lunch, including the strawberries, blueberries, and a few grapes bought at home.
We now continued across mostly flat land, passing names familiar to us from ‘Family favourites’ days - Osnabruck and Gutesloh. At Herford we stopped to have a cup of tea, and decide where to head for tonight. I suggested that we could go via Hamlin, so we changed our proposed route, and then discovered that we had visited Hamlin with Simon & Tom in 1991! We still decided to head that way. After leaving the motorway, the countryside became really pretty - hilly, and through villages with barns made of brick, beside the River Weser.
We pulled in at a free motorhome place at Grossenwieden, which turned out to be an absolute TOP Spot!!
It was quite wonderful, as we looked across a meadow to the Weser River. There was birdsong - we watched sand martins and a kestrel - and it was beautifully warm! We walked out along a little track, passing a horse and its foal, and a few cows,
then came back along the road, and down to the little ferry over the river. It made us think of one that we had used in this area of Germany before, and also of one in Canada, because the river wasn’t very wide and the boat reached the other side almost before it had started. Apparently there had been a ferry here since the 16th century. It really was a gem of a place.
We sat outside with a drink, and then Adrian cooked supper outside (some sausages from home which turned out to be veggie ones!), and we enjoyed our idyllic isolation, thinking, as we have often done ‘we will always remember this’.
Saturday 7th July Into former East Germany 266 miles
We had a really lovely start to the day - sitting outside in the sunshine for our breakfast in this rural idyll. We left soon after 9.00, and drove through the delightful brick built village of Grossenwieden, with its enormous stone church, with hollyhocks sprouting around it. The bakers van was just about to pull off as we passed.
We drove beside the River Weser to Hamlin, which was far bigger and busier than we had imagined, or vaguely remembered. It was a ‘no go’ for us - parking looked difficult, so we just had to glimpse the lovely old houses as we drove past. The centre was pedestrianised, so it would have been nice to have walked around, but we had to suffice with our memories of 1991.
We crossed the River Weser several times, as we drove around, and now made our way back towards Hannover. On the outskirts we came to a Lidl supermarket, and as we are not sure what we will find in Poland, stopped for a shop. Adrian had to agree that it had a lot of plus points - I even bought a pair of shorts! However, the downfall came when we went to pay - the super efficient lady rushed everything through, but then said that she couldn’t accept our card (it works in English Lidl). What to do now? We had a trolley full of shopping, and the queue was more than a dozen people long. Adrian fetched our euros from the van, but this would only cover about half of our shopping. I asked the lady if there was a bank nearby. She didn’t know, but a customer said that there was. Then one of those lovely things - he drove Adrian there to get some cash while I waited in the shop! What a nice man. The assistant apologized, we paid up, and left with our plethora of shopping. We enjoyed a late coffee and bun from the instore bakers, and left at almost midday.
It wasn’t long before we stopped for lunch, in a very busy parking area. We sat inside, and ate a lot of fruit from our recent purchases. We were really heartened to see a young couple with 3 small children - a little boy of two, and baby twins, picnicking happily on the grass. I went out to say how lovely they looked. (in German) As they said ‘Thank you’, I wondered if they were in fact English - a service family maybe.
We now continued towards Berlin, but by the time we stopped for a cup of tea near Brandenburg, it had started to rain. From then on, travelling was most unpleasant, as we headed for the motorway around Berlin, to the west. Luckily the traffic was nowhere near as bad today, as German lorries are obviously banned from motorways at the weekend, so there were only Polish lorries. However the rain now became torrential, with dreadful visibility. We pulled in for a while, hoping that the worst would pass, but as we set off again, it seemed no better. We had been driving past lots of pine forests, as we remember from before.
As we turned off at the north east of Berlin to Eberswalde, it brightened a bit. We reached this former East German town - again much larger than we had imagined, and drove through it to find the place where we hoped to stay tonight. The town had trolley buses, and some cobbled streets, and there were still some ugly bleak blocks of flats from the former era. What really struck us was the lack of flowers - there were almost none.
We found our spot ‘by the canal’ - in fact a hundred yards from it - at the edge of a car park soon after 6 o’clock. We walked across to have a look at the canal, as rain began to fall again, but luckily it soon stopped.
We woke late, having both been awake in the night. It was a fine morning, with blue sky, and we enjoyed seeing a boat travelling along the canal.
We left at 10.00, driving through part of the town, which looked better in the sunshine! We passed a little brick church, and several old blocks of flats, some of which had been painted.
We now drove through several pretty villages, along tree lined roads, making us think of France. Often we drove through more areas of forest.
We pulled in beside the road on the outskirts of Schwedt for Adrian to check his navigation. The tree lined road consisted of attractively painted houses, and was smart and well kept. A lovely sight was a woman skipping along the path with two small children.
The town didn’t serve us well, however, although as we tried with difficulty to turn round, a man did pull up and ask if we wanted help. We found bottle banks, but nowhere to leave rubbish. The waste water ‘dump’ was a ‘no-go’, as it was a private one. And we didn’t find McDonalds - we wanted it to get an Internet connection!
A lot of the flats here had been ‘done up’ and had flowers on the balconies. We were aware of how many people, many older, were cycling.
At midday we found ourselves in Poland, and almost immediately pulled into a petrol station, where an attendant filled the tank for us, and was happy for us to pay by card. Also there was a bin for us to lose our bag of rubbish! We were near Rossiwek.
We thought we were going into Szczecin but our sat-nav decided we wouldn’t and by the time we found out, we couldn’t avoid a short stretch of motorway. We crossed the wide Oder River, but then got stuck in a traffic jam, just before the end. This was very frustrating, as it was lunchtime, and there was no way to avoid the queue. There were some road works at the end, but just after negotiating these, we missed the ongoing motorway turn off and came to a stretch of very badly surfaced dual carriageway. We were wondering where we might be able to stop, when we saw a small ‘P’, and pulled off into a delightful bit of forest, with picnic tables, each with its little parking space.
We found one to almost fit the van, and proceeded to ‘picnic’ at the strange table - very long and thin (about 18 inches), with wooden benches set too far away.
Our first stop in Poland
It was beautifully warm, however, and having had lunch, it didn’t take long to make the decision to stay here tonight. We were surrounded by pines and silver birches, with tall pinky grasses underneath.
The afternoon disappeared fast, as we enjoyed our fantastic setting. We walked out briefly into the forest, realizing what the locals had been collecting with their plastic bags - blueberries. We gathered a few, but they were very tiny.
We had our first barbie of the trip, cooking pork, and enjoyed our absolute bliss until a sudden sharp shower sent us in at 8 o’clock.
The shower was short lived, and we came back out until 10 o’clock.
Monday 9th July Three out of three and some lovely beaches 124 miles
It was a beautiful morning, as we sat to have breakfast at our funny table. We left just after 9.00, and drove north towards the coast. We noticed a lot of people sitting beside the road selling jars of fruit. It looked mostly like blueberries.
We needed three things today - a place to empty the loo; a bank to get some Polish Zlotys, and an internet connection to contact our ‘kids’. We managed all three, but not easily!
We pulled off by a McDonalds, where there is supposed to be free WiFi, but we couldn’t make it work. We then came to Kamien Pomorski, where one branch of the River Oder reaches the Baltic Sea as part of its vast estuary.
When we passed a public loo (there are not very many) Adrian went and negotiated with the lady attendant to let him empty our loo cassette. She appeared happy with the few cents (euros not Zlotys) he gave her, and mission number one was accomplished!
We were able to park beside the nearby sparsely used marina to have coffee while black headed gulls cavorted in the water in front of us. Afterwards we walked up into the walled town, where we found a bank, opposite the splendid Town Hall. We waited our turn at the enclosed ‘hole in the wall’, and came out with our wad of Zlotys. Mission number two!
The Town Hall at KamienPomorski
We walked around the town hall, which was attractive, and had a long and interesting history, written (in English) on a plaque. We walked back to the van through an open air theatre.
We drove off now, and reached the north coast at Dziwnowek, then drove westwards a few miles to Dziwnow, situated on a long sand spit, and crammed with holiday makers. We had come here because Adrian thought that we could get an internet connection - and we did (FON luckily). We were able to send a brief message to ‘our four’, and receive some photos from Emma of impressive floods at Otterton last Saturday.
With all three missions completed, we set off along the coast eastwards, soon stopping at a forest parking area to have lunch. We had realized that we weren’t far from the sea, so after lunch, we set off to walk the half mile through the forest to the beach.
It was a pleasant walk, and the beach at the end was delightful - completely unspoilt, and made of fine white sand. We had a paddle in the Baltic, which we have to say wasn’t as cold as we might have thought, and then a sit on the beach.
Adrian on the first of many delightful Baltic beaches
We were sorry to see that some Poles are as stupid as some English people with their dogs, as we encountered an ugly, puffing pug dog, whose owners carried it all the way back through the forest to their car.
We drove on eastwards, stopping for a cup of tea at a rough layby by a river. We weren’t sure if the wooden structure in the grass was meant to be a table or a seat, but we sat on it for our cup of tea, with our legs dangling! We had wondered whether to stop there, but thought that we couldn’t stop early two days running, and it wasn’t as perfect as yesterday’s stop.
Is it a seat or is it a table?
We continued towards Kolobrzeg, driving first through atmospheric Trzebiatow, which had several nice churches. We had read that Kolobrzeg was a large ‘resort’, but we hadn’t been prepared for how large it was! It was a vast busy and bustling town, with lots of happy people, some in very short shorts. We never did get to the actual centre, as it was just too busy for us. It seemed a mixture of old apartment blocks and modern trappings, but we soon got out and continued eastwards.
We drove through more forests, and through areas of wheatfields on tree lined roads, but not wanting to negotiate another large town at Koszalin, we turned off to the coast just beforehand, reaching it at Mielno.
This had looked a quiet little place on the map, but we just couldn’t believe the amount of ‘holiday grot’, and the vast throngs of people - it was like Blackpool!! There was every kind of amusement, and little shops and stalls by the hundred!
As the road now led northwards between the sea and a large lake (Jez Jamno), we couldn’t divert. We felt that there was no hope. But - like a gift from heaven, we suddenly espied a rough parking area and pulled in just before Lazy. There were two other motorhomes here. Adrian spoke to the Swiss family in one, and they said that they were staying here tonight (they had two small children), so we settled in ourselves. It was now 5.30.
The Ixy in its beach spot
It was a short walk through the dunes to a fabulous fine white sandy beach. We walked over and sat amongst the dunes, enjoying the warm sunshine after the short shower as we had arrived. We were surprised at how late some people came down to the beach - even with young children, cars arrived at 7.30!
We came back to our spot, and enjoyed sitting outside with our aperitifs, and then cooking supper and eating outside, coming in when the sun went behind a cloud at 9 o’clock.
Tuesday 10th July Trouble with the cities 136 miles
We woke to blue sky and sunshine, but this alternated all day with cloud and occasional showers.
We left just after 9 o’clock, driving past the profusion of scented rugosa roses we had admired yesterday.
We soon drove through the small town of Lazy, which was very different from the tourist conglomeration of yesterday. Here there were mostly low-key campsites, with chalet and apartment accommodation.
We turned inland, stopping by Lake Jamno, where I put my toes into the water.
As we came to a newly surfaced road with lethal chicanes, we saw our first stork, nesting on top of a pole. Further along this road, two large road vehicles were working, taking up much of the road - no warning signs or traffic lights!
Soon though, the roads were back to being narrow and terribly surfaced, but often lined with trees. We wound on through this rural scenery until we came to the main road towards Gdansk.
We had intended driving through the town of Slupsk, but found ourselves on a new bypass, and racing past it. Judging by our later lack of success in towns, maybe it was a good thing!
We were having difficulty in finding anywhere to stop for lunch - the only parking areas appeared to be by service stations. We had stopped at one for coffee, and it wasn’t very exciting! The road we were on was very busy. Adrian tried turning off a couple of times, but just came to dreadfully surfaced roads to small towns, with no parking possibilities. We finally saw a ‘picnic’ sign, but it was just a place to stop by an LPG outlet with one mobile loo!
It was lucky that we did stop there though, as we now came to the very busy area as we approached the ‘Tri Cities’ - Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia. Traffic was heavy, traffic lights prolific (and almost always red!), and the whole experience not pleasant.
All we saw of Gdynia, apparently a port, was block upon block of unattractive apartments. Sopot had some very nice buildings, and an affluent feel, but driving through it was difficult, and we soon found ourselves on the way onwards to Gdansk.
Adrian had looked up a place here where it should be possible to stay overnight, but driving amongst the huge amount of traffic through the plethora of roads proved more than difficult. Added to this, it had recently rained really hard, (not on us) so the roads were very wet. We had the nasty experience of passing a parked car, with its engine smoking badly, looking as if it was about to blow up.
We found our way to very near to the parking area in Gdansk which we were looking for, but we were on a road which didn’t connect up with it. Adrian found it all too much, so we headed out, sufficing with a few glimpses of roof outlines of the many splendid buildings.
We headed for a campsite in ‘Lonely Planet’, in Stogi, a few miles north east of Gdansk, hoping that we might visit tomorrow. Adrian’s Sat-nav didn’t have the name Stogi, but we still managed to find our way there, arriving at 4.30.
It made us think of busy French sites that we’d encountered in the 70s/80s with our kids - crammed, noisy and happy. We were ushered in, and shown to the last remaining motorhome place, lined up with others. But - the sun was now shining warmly, so we recovered with a cup of tea, having to dash in some time later when a sudden sharp and short-lived shower came. It’s a long time since we’ve stayed in a campsite like this!
We quite enjoyed all the activity around us. The sun came out again for us to have our sherry/G&T outside, then after a quick look around the facilities, we came back for supper.
Afterwards we set off to locate the beach, passing the tram terminus at the end of the track. There appeared to be just one access to the beach, through a little beach complex, but we arrived at just the right moment, as the sun was just about to set (over the cranes).
The sun goes down at Stogi beach near Gdansk
We walked across the rich sandy beach for me to dip my toes - a couple of people were actually in swimming. A nice place to be, for a ‘one off’. We wandered back, and as we had an unexpected internet connection, we phoned Simon, who is off with his family to Canada on Thursday for a holiday. Having had success with that, we then phoned Emma, and spoke to her & to Felix & Ruby, and heard a bit more about the surprise floods they had just experienced.
Wednesday 11th July Glorious Gdansk
It was a fine morning, so we ate our breakfast - including fresh rolls bought here, sitting outside, and left for Gdansk at 9.30.
It was a magnificent trip! We travelled in by tram, enjoying the experience. The only unfortunate thing was that at the stop before we had intended getting off, the tram stopped and didn’t get going again. After some time we alighted, and discovered that the driver must have collapsed at the wheel. Police arrived, and a bit later we heard an ambulance, but we won’t ever know the outcome. Later, whilst walking around, we saw another man collapsed on the ground, being attended to.
We set off for our wander around the town. We had been given a little brochure at the campsite, so could tell what many of the buildings were. Much of Gdansk (or Danzig as we knew it as) had been destroyed in 1945 by the Russians whilst capturing it from the Germans, but the buildings, many with ancient origins, looked superb. The skyline was a delight of Dutch looking gables, and it was hard to know when to stop taking photos!
We headed for the main ‘ Long market street’ - a pedestrianised street which was quite wonderful.
We started off by the impressive town hall, and wandered up to the end at what is called ‘Upland Gate’, stopping to enjoy an inexpensive icecream before making our way to St Mary’s Church.
This brick built church is enormous - it made us think of Albi in its size. Inside it was very white, with one superb stained glass window. The others were of plain glass, so that it was very light.
Gigantic St Mary’s church with its one stained glass window
There were numerous paintings and sculptures, but these weren’t of much interest to us (or to the party of school children who were being shown around). Adrian liked the ancient chests, and the astronomical clock (although he couldn’t understand it).
Outside we arrived at an area of fountains spurting up from the ground, as we have seen in many other places. A party of school children were also enjoying them, and playing ‘dare’ by running through them!
We now made our way down delightful St Mary’s Lane to the waterfront, which was bustling with people and with stalls, many selling amber, which Gdansk is renowned for. Our only complaint is that there were no seats - perhaps you were supposed to go into the many eating places. We had brought our own rolls, and did in the end find a seat in a very leafy park area just behind the waterfront, with the skyline of attractive gables high up. A sudden sharp shower set us rushing to get out our umbrellas, which we sat under to finish our lunch!
Back by the waterfront, we had a look at the giant ‘crane’, dating originally from the middle ages, when it handled cargo, and erected ship’s masts.
Gdansk’s medieval crane
We made our way back to the main market street, and up to Neptune’s fountain, where we had started. Nearby were several interesting houses, including New Bench House, where at 1.00 pm, a maiden appears at an upstairs window. We had arrived at just the right time, and also to hear the lovely caroling from the town hall bells. All this, with the exquisite scent of the lime trees.
We now made our way back to the tram stop, stopping at 3 different stalls on the way. In fact the first was a little baker’s shop, and the delightful smiling assistant, reminiscent of the Austrian singing ladies in the Sound of Music, served us our two pastries, with repeated nods and thanks! At the second we bought a large punnet of raspberries for not much more than a pound, and at the third - hidden in the pedestrian subway - some washing detergent. The assistant here laughed when we got our magnifier to read the small print on the container, and then showed us her magnifier hidden under the counter!
The only downer was that the tram departed just as we were about to get on it. Our wait wasn’t long though, and we were soon trundling back to Stogi.
When we alighted, we diverted to have a short time on the lovely, but at this time very busy, sandy beach. The temperature was pleasant, but we were bombarded by hundreds of ladybirds!
Back at the van, we sat outside (in the shade!) to enjoy one of the buns we had bought, before setting about the ‘chores’. Adrian sorted all the ‘filling and emptying’. Just before we were able to sort out our washing (you had to ask at reception) an almighty thunderstorm came in, so we had to wait. At this time a whole party of German motorhomes had arrived, and it wasn’t long before we were completely surrounded!
This was our 150th night in the Ixi, and Adrian had bought some bubbly to celebrate!
Thursday 12th July Goodbye Gdansk and finally off south 117 miles
We didn’t get going until after 10.00. We were aware of all the Germans in the motorhomes as we made our preparations to leave. Finally they asked us when we were going, as they wanted to reorganize their vans, using our space. We moved out, and I took down the still very damp washing while Adrian went to pay. At that point, a dozen or so motorbikes came in and surrounded us! We’re not sure what nationality they were, but they were friendlier than the Germans.
We followed the tram route back to Gdansk, then we followed Adrian’s satnav, tying to locate a nearby Tesco store. This proved more than difficult, and we were on the point of giving up when we finally found it. The way in was ridiculously complicated and long, but we finally made it, and entered the vast mall. It was rather like hypermarkets in France, with lots of shops around the central supermarket. Even so, the store was huge.
We found the food very inexpensive, but there was not much in the way of fruit and veg. I even found some inexpensive crocs, which I hope will be useful when going to the shower and to the beach.
The exit route was even more complicated, and entailed driving through a vast underground parking area (luckily high enough for us).
We’d had to hang all the washing around the van, ‘knicker line’ style, and slowly it was drying.
We found our way to the motorway south - we were heading for Torun, which we hope to visit tomorrow. Just as we came to the motorway, a torrential rain shower arrived, so driving was most unpleasant for a while, with terrible visibility.
Then to our dismay, we found that this new motorway was a toll one, but too late! In fact it only cost just over 3 pounds for the whole way.
You get a rather anaesthetic view of the country from a motorway, so we were pleased to turn off (after more heavy rain with some hail) to Chelmo. By now it was sunny again.
We had a pleasant walk around this workaday town with its enormous brick built churches. The parish church is said to contain the remains of St Valentine. Much of the centre of the town was being dug up and rebuilt, but it still had a very ambient feel. There was a very ornate Town Hall in white and blue and at the nearby market stalls (mostly just closing up) Adrian bought some pears.
The pretty blue and white Town Hall in Chelmo
We came to one of the surviving gateways through the ancient town walls. A little ‘Louisa lookalike’ was skipping delightedly through the gate.
A tower in Chelmo’s town walls
When we got back to the van the washing was nearly all dry!
We now took a rural route towards Torun through pleasant agricultural country, often with tree-lined roads, making us think of France. However, we drove through almost constant villages, so there was nowhere to pull off at all. We had almost reached Torun, beginning to feel a bit desperate, when we came to a forested area. We turned off, and turning this way and that finally came to the end of the road at 5.45. A sign here said ‘National remembrance site for victims of Nazism’.
It was a good place to stop for the night but first we walked on through the trees to see what was here. We were really none the wiser, as any captions were in Polish. The place seemed to be called Barbarka, and there were walkways through the forest to various monuments. We’d like to have understood more, but now made our way back to the van.
(We later found out that in 1939, 600 Poles were shot by the Nazis and buried in the woods.)
There were one or two cars parked here, but we hadn’t expected this to be THE place to come for roller bladers! Car after car arrived. One young lady arrived on her bike, and asked us if we’d keep an eye on it while she rollerbladed. A few cyclists also came by, in particular a woman with a young boy enjoying sitting on the crossbar. It was the last thing we might have imagined.
Friday 13th July Another lovely town, and later a treat for Adrian! 118 miles
The only car which came down before we left at 9.30 brought a couple, the lady of which gathered some leaves from the variety of broad-leaved trees surrounding us! It was a fine morning as we drove the few miles into Torun, stopping to photograph a ‘watch out for rollerbladers’ sign nearby!
Watch out for rollerbladers!
Adrian had looked up car parks, and we proceeded to one close to the town. The attendant spoke no English, but with pointing, and by showing us the price chart, we understood that it cost 3 zlotys for an hour (about 60p)
We left at 10 o’clock for a delightful wander around yet another atmospheric town. Much of the centre of the Old Town was pedestrianised, which made it more enjoyable. It seemed a very happy place, with plenty of nice buildings. Tucked into crevices of some of the houses were some unusual statues by a local craftsman.
Statues tucked into the walls in Torun
Some notices outside buildings were written in English, as well as in Polish and German, which was helpful.
Most of the people walking about appeared to be Polish. Children always appear much loved, and very happy. We wandered down to the wide Vistula River, where it was really peaceful.
We made our way back to the enormous brick built cathedral of St John the Evangelist and St John the Baptist. We were prepared to pay the small amount to enter, but found that we didn’t need to as the whole interior was being renovated, and enormous scaffolding was filling the place. We had a quick glimpse at this important site, where apparently Copernicus was baptized, and where Pope John Paul had visited in 1999.
We were looking for somewhere to have coffee, and although the streets were full of outdoor eating places, most protected by glass or plastic, very few people were sitting in them. We finally found a pleasant café near a statue of Copernicus (who was born here), where a tea and coffee and large bun came to just over 2 pounds!
Enjoying coffee near the statue of Copernicus, Torun
Despite the vast amount of building work and restoration going on in the town, we really enjoyed our walk around. The surroundings were very green, with plenty of trees, including lovely lime trees.
The Trumpton looking Post Office building - and some Trumpton workers, Torun!
We returned to the van at midday, paid our 6 zlotys and left.
Our turn off to what we thought might be a pleasant lunch stop by the Vistula River didn’t happen - we just found ourselves on a very bumpy unsurfaced road with nowhere to stop.
Back on the main road we stopped for fuel, and had to resort to having lunch beside a service area - usually the only places with parking.
We continued travelling vaguely northwards - towards Lithuania in a day or two, but diverting later to visit a canal incline plane which Adrian was keen to see.
The main road was very badly surfaced and very rutted from big lorries, making for a roller-coaster ride. We were amused at signs which had ‘bumps for 1.3km’, and then one for 1.6km etc, rather like South Africa.
We reached the town of Brodnica, where we noticed, as we often have, large stalls selling flowers - some real and some artificial, near the large cemetery.
We tried unsuccessfully to get an internet connection, which was annoying, as we needed to put more money on our mobile phone, which has almost run out, and which we need, as we receive email messages on it. Luckily we did get a message later from Simon to say that they had arrived safely in Calgary.
We turned off the main road now, and had a very slow and bumpy journey along rural roads, which had absolutely no stopping places. Often they were pleasant and tree lined, other times through small villages.
AtIlawa we reached the first of the great Masurian lakes, and imagined that we might be able to stay beside one. No such luck - we often glimpsed lakes through the trees, but the road never went near them.
Just after Lepno, we came to the Elblag Canal, which is what Adrian had wanted to see. There was a pull off beside it, with two coach drivers waiting beside a large coach. We pulled in, intending to stay for the night, but on investigating the map here, Adrian thought that one of the incline planes, the reason for him wanting to come - was a couple of kilometres further on. We made our way there, and sure enough he was right.
He went off to investigate, and then a bit later, he could see that something was happening. We walked along to the canal, where first some small craft, and then the large passenger boat, were hauled up the incline plane and then back into the water. It was certainly impressive - a one off - apparently the only one of its kind in the world - and there are five on this canal. We have known of incline planes on railways, but not on a canal.
The unique Elblag Canal incline plane
Well impressed, we went back for me to prepare supper. As it was a cooler night than we have been experiencing, it was the time for a vegetable casserole, followed by a bread and butter pudding, both of which were excellent.
Saturday 14th July Tree lined roads with no pull-offs 120 miles
We were surprised to hear a puffing sound at 7.30, and looked up to see a hot air balloon overhead!
It was a grey morning, which soon became blue sky. Just after setting off, I photographed a stork in a field. We were to see many more today, mostly nesting on top of poles. Adrian photographed one at Wilczkowo.
We spent today driving on rural roads, almost always with trees lining the road. The road surface was variable, mostly really bad! Later we drove along a bumpy cobbled section. We really appreciated the odd good stretch!
A cobbled road in Poland
At Dobre Miastawe shopped in Netto supermarket. It was rather like Lidl, but we bought more than the milk we had gone in for! Unfortunately we weren’t able to get an internet connection as we had our coffee in the carpark here - it was no good waiting for a nice little pull off for elevenses! This town had the most flower displays we have seen anywhere, and balconies too displayed red and white balcon geraniums. What a difference it makes!
The onward road was really narrow, with a high drop off. We found that oncoming drivers would not pull over, which gave us a lot of nasty moments.
As we drove onwards towards Jeziorany, which we both thought very French, we saw two small deer.
We started looking for a stopping place for lunch at 11.45, but it was 1 o’clock before we pulled in beside a bend in the road by a water pumping station! We had come across parking at Swieta Lipka, but it was fee paying for a huge pilgrimage church. We perhaps should have stopped, but being Saturday, everywhere was a bit busy.
A bit further on, we came to the area where Hitler stayed in a hideout for much of the war, at a place now referred to as ‘Wolf’s Lair’. Adrian had wanted to see this site, but I wasn’t keen to be associated with anything that could be seen to glorify this place where such evil thoughts were construed. We hadn’t realized that he had been living in what is now Poland. It seemed strange that all around was so much like everywhere else - forests and villages.
The car park was quite busy. A young lad explained the prices, but we decided not to stop. We did see what must have been one of the bunkers along the road.
We continued eastwards, often near lakes, but never with any access to them. Soon after Szlymar Duzy, there was a ‘half pull off’ by the lake, and a few people were enjoying the lakeside, where there were one or two boats. It was rather windy as we strolled by the lake, so we came back for a cup of tea, not fancying an icecream from the van which had just pulled in. It was while we were here that we had success, and were able to get an internet connection! This was great, as we could now add money to our mobile phone so that we can receive our emails. Hooray!
Not long after this, we came to a parking area in the forest near Pozezdrze - the first we have seen today, so at 5.15 we pulled in for the night.
We left at around 9 o’clock on a fine morning and continued towards Lithuania.
The town of Kenklani had really colourful flower beds. At Solmany, we stopped by a lake, which had a sort of pull off, where a little lakeside area had been made, with a volley ball net, little wooden jetty, and new shelter.
At Durajek, Adrian was able to fill the LPG tank,then at Olecko we pulled into an actual layby, even if a lorry was occupying most of it. We had our morning drink here, but access to the lake was difficult.
At Suwalki, Adrian tried unsuccessfully to get an internet connection by McDonalds, but later, at a service area, we were luckier, so we made this our lunch stop. As we left, we saw 2 storks in the field, and saw many more afterwards. We also saw a couple of birds of prey.
Soon after this, we drove into Lithuania - no formalities at all. We had a problem today which was difficult to solve - we needed to empty the loo, and public loos are pretty nonexistent. The one we found a week ago is the only one we’ve seen, apart from when we were walking around Gdansk.
We didn’t hold out any better hopes for Lithuania, and we were right! Adrian asked at a toilet by the old border building, but the lady didn’t understand, and access was difficult anyway. We did see another by a petrol station, but it was locked. We were happy to go into a campsite, but couldn’t see any sign of any!
Meanwhile, we stopped to get diesel, and Adrian was delighted to be able to buy a map of Lithuania. (it’s confusing that Lithuania is called Lietuva, which seems much more like Latvia) Soon afterwards, at Marijampole, he found an ATM to get some money, and could also get drinking water and loo rolls (but still no place to empty it).
There was nowhere to stop, except bus stop pull outs, and the only tracks led to houses or fields. We took an unsurfaced side track, following a ‘brown’ tourist type sign, and although this gave us a pleasant view of rural Lithuania, it didn’t lead anywhere! The small-holding houses were simple, but the gardens were attractively well tended and productive.
The main road was well surfaced, but we had taken a small side road which was far from it! Another time, we came to an unsurfaced section, which was very hard going.
We pulled into a bus stop to have our cup of tea to revive us, and it was almost 6 o’clock (now 7.00 Baltic time) when we spied an area by a bottle bank and some maybe disused works, and pulled in, in a tiny place called Leskava. House martins swooped around us.
First night stop in Lithuania
We saw one or two people walking past with a bucket and fishing rod, so after supper we thought that we’d see where they had walked to. We walked across a plantain filled field, but saw no sign of any water, so came back to the van. It was pleasant being out as the sun went down from a clear blue sky.
Monday 16th July A nice Lithuanian town visit, then northwards 115 miles
It was a fine morning, but with a cool wind.
We left at about 9 o’clock new time and drove the few miles to the large town of Kaunas. After Adrian’s initial horror of driving around a busy town, we found a car park close to the old town. Parking cost about 50p for half an hour. We had enough change for 1½ hours, so set off for a pleasant wander.
Kaunas - the 14th century castle, and inside St George’s church
We were right close to the 14th century castle, not open today, but we could see it as we walked past. Nearby was the gigantic brick church of St George. This was in a very bad state of repair, but is slowly being restored. Under Soviet rule, it had been used as a storage place and had been greatly damaged. It had a rather eerie feeling. The cathedral was also immense, and was also being restored, but was in a much better state.
Most of the interesting buildings centred around the Main Square, including the attractive white and blue old town hall, which was tiered, like a wedding cake, which was quite appropriate, as it houses the Civil Marriage palace.
The Town Hall in Kaunas, Lithuania
We walked down to the river - Kaunas is situated where the rivers Nemunas and Neris meet.
At this hour of the day, everywhere was very quiet, which suited us. Coach parties were arriving by the time we left. We saw the 15th Century ‘house of thunder’, so called because a statue of the Pagan God Thunder had been found in one of its walls.
We wandered along the cobbled streets, calling in at the tourist information, where Adrian bought a map of Latvia. Another couple in there were from Roumania, but were conversing with the assistant in English. We found a different route back to the van, and then had coffee sitting on a wall, but watching out for the parking attendant!
We drove off, diverting to see the funicular railway, which we found with difficulty, but it was closed for 2 weeks! Adrian was having difficulty with his satnav as we now tried to leave the town, but we were able to stop & buy some bread for lunch.
The funicular railway at Kaunas
We took the motorway for a short section, but then continued north on well surfaced roads, with the usual problem of no stopping places. We took an unsurfaced road hoping to find somewhere for lunch, and almost immediately saw a large bus turnaround, which suited us fine. The only thing was, a large tanker had the same idea! While there, it rained hard, but otherwise the day was fine.
We continued north, noticing the large twin-spired church at Dotnuva. All along the roadside, people were sitting with their wares to sell - mostly vegetables from their well stocked gardens.
We then found an actual ‘picnic site’ - a parking area, unpleasant toilet and a bench - so stopped for our cup of tea. Then, on skirting Siaulia, there was a pull off to a gravel area near a lake. This should do us fine for the night. We walked along the track for quite a way, but never really got close to the lake. There was a little pathway through to the very muddy edge of the water, which wasn’t very enticing!
After supper we finished reading our 1991 east German diary. We were surprised to find that when we camped on the coast in Germany, we had driven along to the Polish border - just close to where we had been this time! We received an email to say that Richard and Teanny’s little boy Elliott had been born on Friday.
Just before 11.30, with Adrian having just gone to sleep, a car pulled in and someone tapped on the window. After the second tap, Adrian donned his shorts and went out to speak to a woman, who said (although she didn’t speak English), that this was not a campsite, but private land. When Adrian said that we would be gone in the morning, she said (in German) ‘have a good sleep’, and seemed quite happy. I had smiled when Adrian had asked if she spoke German - she said no, but he didn’t either!
One or two cars had come down in the night, maybe for someone to go fishing, so after our late night experience, it disturbed me. Also it rained a bit. The road though, was really quiet, despite Adrian’s fears that it might be noisy with lorries.
The day was very mixed - some fine weather and some heavy showers, and with a cool wind. We left at 9 o’clock - and were amazed to see a rough parking area at the end of the lake - the first we have seen!
Just north of Siauliai we turned off to see the ‘Hill of Crosses’. This is a strange sight of thousands and thousands of crosses set on a small hill, and on the ground all around. There was a parking area some way away, but we drove right to the crosses, where we pulled off the road onto the rough verge made by other cars. There was hardly anybody about at this time - just the strimmers were out in force, which detracted from the peace that one was supposed to feel!
Lithuania’s ‘Hill of Crosses’
Soon after this we saw a whole lot of storks in a field, and some flying above.
At 10.15 we drove into Latvia, and noticed that the road surface suddenly deteriorated! The countryside was still flat, and the roads still straight and tree-lined. There was still nowhere to stop - the only pull-offs were still bus stops. We did find one small pull-off - just before a bus stop, and where a building of some sort had once stood. We had our morning drink here, then tried to locate the whereabouts of a ‘point of interest’ shown on the map.
We had no idea what it was, or exactly where, but deduced that it was on the road which we had just passed. We were right - we almost immediately came to a delightful old windmill - needing a lot of restoration, but really evocative in its overgrown setting. There was nowhere to park, so we stopped by the end of the short track and wandered past old fruit trees and a small pond to the brick built windmill with a little old well behind. It was a wonderful find.
A Latvian windmill with its well
We soon came to the town of Jelgava - a town which had once apparently been really beautiful, but which had been flattened in the world wars. We drove right through it - it still had a pleasant feel, with a lot of green spaces. The impressive former palace had amazingly survived, and exists now as the Agricultural University.
Now we headed for Riga - the capital of Latvia. The road was shown as a dual carriageway all the way, but most of it was being rebuilt, so we had to follow unpleasant crammed two way stretches. Then came the cobbles, and all we can say is that it’s a relief when they come to an end!
We headed for the campsite in Riga, following the sat-nav, and finding it relatively easily. Lots of motorhomes were lined up, so we joined them, and proceeded to get lunch. It had become really warm, so Adrian put out the awning and table & chairs, but before we could finish our lunch, down came the rain! The afternoon continued like this - sunshine & showers.
We had toyed with the idea of going into Riga today, but decided against it, as it is quite a long walk. Instead we had a ‘catching up time’, with Adrian paying for an internet connection (which he had trouble with later), and also paying for electricity!!
We were able to see the photos of Richard and Teanny’s little boy Elliott, but before we could use the washing machine, we had to get some money - ‘Lats’. We set off to walk to a mall at the end of the road, but on passing the exhibition centre, which this campsite is behind, I spied an ATM inside, so we were saved the walk.
Wednesday 18th July A superb day discovering Riga 0.5 miles
Today was our day to visit Riga, so we discussed the various options of doing so.
1) Walking in. A long way, boring at first - 2km to the town.
2) Bus. An 800m walk first. Cheaper to buy ticket in nearby mall, entailing a longer walk. The bus stop for Riga is further on than we want.
3) Taxi back (doesn’t look too expensive).
4) Drive in and park. Quite pricey. Maybe not return to campsite, therefore would need to get completely organized beforehand.
In addition, Adrian thought that it might well rain this afternoon.
Having almost decided to walk in, Adrian looked up the website of a couple who travelled extensively in the Baltic States last year (when it was extremely hot). They mentioned a place to stay which was nearer and cheaper than the campsite. They were really boondockers, and begrudged the high cost of Riga campsite.
Suddenly it was all change! We set about organizing - I had a shower, trying out my new crocs! Adrian did the ‘emptying and filling’, and went to pay. We then hoped that we would find the guarded car park mentioned. We did! For 3 Lats (just over ₤3) we were able to park and stay overnight! We did have a problem to solve, as the loo pump wasn’t working. This turned out to be because a switch had got knocked when Adrian was filling the tank with water.
It was 10 o’clock when we set off to walk the now shorter distance to the bridge over the wide River Daugava. The weather was lovely - just the right temperature for walking around. We could see the skyline of interesting towers as we approached the ‘castle’ on the other side of the river. This is now the home of Latvia’s President, and has a guard standing in front. It is set in pleasant parkland with lovely trees. Lots of sparrows were noisily tweeting along with a crowd of pigeons.
We began wandering the lovely old streets. We soon came to the ‘Three brothers’ - three very old houses, one of which was 600 years old.
The ‘Three Brothers’ - with a musician ready to play
We looked inside St Jacob’s cathedral, which Adrian thought looked quite English. The main cathedral was under scaffolding, and as it required a fee to enter, we thought that we had enough to see without it.
We had been looking for somewhere to have coffee, but places didn’t seem to open early, and most looked a bit ‘posh’. We were aware that Latvia appears more expensive than neighbouring countries.
The main square in Riga and some girls in traditional dress
When I spied a ‘coffee shop’, near the atmospheric ‘Ratslauskums’ (main square), with its attractive historic and reconstructed buildings, we went for it. Service was slow, but we were in no rush. We looked across to St Peter’s church (3 Lats to enter, so we didn’t) with its attractively distinctive spire. The pleasant young waiter spoke English, so we enjoyed tea/coffee and a shared pecan pastry while listening to one of the many street musicians that we enjoyed today. Another bonus was that we could use the loo here, before setting off to wander some more of the streets.
We came to a market area in a cobbled square, and I enjoyed seeing the various crafts on display - a lot of knitted goods, Russian dolls, amber jewellery. I wasn’t tempted, even though I’d lost the opal out of my ring this morning (I had just tipped out the washing up water when I discovered it was missing).
Lunch beside the Daugava River
We made our way down to the river, and sat on a seat to eat the sandwiches I had prepared, but then we had great difficulty in crossing the very wide street with all its manic traffic, and trams in the middle of it.
Eventually we made it, and found our way to the Central Market - an enormous area, some in old hangers, and some outside. We enjoyed seeing all the fruit and vegetables, the bread and cake stalls and the clothes stalls. It was incredibly busy in this area, but we soon made our way back to the peace of the canal, passing the emotive Freedom Tower.
Riga’s Freedom Tower
This canal runs through a lovely grassy area with beautiful trees and very well tended flowers beds. It was lovely to see people enjoying themselves in this tranquil setting.
The tranquil canal runs through Riga
We saw a few rowing boats and pedalos for hire, and then came to the boat trip we had read about, and had thought a nice idea. The boat we tried was full, and just leaving. An American lady passenger told us that another would leave in 20 minutes. We had no way of telling if this was true, but thought that if we were going on a boat for an hour, we ought to find a loo first. I said ‘What we want is a McDonalds’. Lonely Planet had stated that public loos were hard to find, so use McDonalds. We walked out to the street, and sure enough, there was a McDonalds (they must be good for something!)
Mission successful, we sat on a park bench and waited for the next boat to arrive. When it did, it was full before it got to our turn. We walked away, but as we started walking up Bastion Hill (a medieval relic), we saw another boat arriving back, and this time we were lucky. We sat at the rear of the little boat, sitting outside, but with a roof, and had a relaxing ride after all our walking. The boat went down the canal and then across the wide, wide river, before coming back into the other end of the canal. This was when we had our only rain shower, but luckily we were protected from most of the rain.
Our little boat passes under the huge bridge we’d walked across
After returning, we were ready to eat our cake bought at the market, before sauntering back towards the bridge. We walked along past Jacob’s Barracks - 16th century buildings attractively restored, and housing outdoor restaurants and little gift shops. At the entrance to the cobbled pedestrian street was the 14th century Powder Tower, and through the medieval walls was the only remaining gate - the 17th century Swedish Gate.
An ancient street in Riga Rosie by the 17th Century Swedish Gate
We found ourselves back by the ‘castle’, so then it was the walk over the long bridge again - this time with the wind in our face - and then back to our parking lot - how glad we were not to have the extra 500m back to the campsite. It was now 5 o’clock. It had been a great day.
The evening became quite wet. We didn’t envy the people we saw walking or cycling past, but we were snug in our little home. The view was nicer than in the campsite, so we were pleased with our find.
Thursday 19th July North up the Latvian Coast 84 miles
It was a grey morning, but by mid morning the sky was blue and it became very warm. We left at 9 o’clock and drove through Riga, passing some nice buildings in the main town.
Just out of Riga, we stopped at a Maxima supermarket at Adazi. It didn’t impress Adrian, but we did find a pleasant pastry which we had with our tea/coffee afterwards. We were amused at advertising slogans in the shop saying ‘Maxibum’!
We now drove towards the coast, through pine forests. We were passing a lot of lakes, but couldn’t really see them. We arrived at Saulkrasti, but were dismayed to see that all the car parks were paying ones (1 Lat for an hour). We stopped briefly at one car park, and wandered onto the beach of coarse ‘builder’s sand’. It was sunny now, and there were no people about. The area seemed a bit posey to us - nice houses in a forest setting.
Some miles north we turned off to reach the sea at Tuja. We followed a bumpy road, which became unsurfaced, and ended at a campsite by the beach, but the adjacent car park was a paying one. Feeling rather despondent, we returned to where the road met the sea, and here we found another campsite, but close to it a large car park which was free.
We made up sandwiches and enjoyed these on the white sandy beach, lazing in the warm sun afterwards, before walking along to the tan coloured stream, and having a short paddle in the sea. One or two people were enjoying the water.
We didn’t leave here until 2.30, driving back on the bumpy, sandy track to the road, and then north through more forest.
At Vitrupe, the road actually ran along by the sea. We pulled into a large car park and walked to a lovely sandy beach where a river, again tan coloured, came out. It was nice to see that these car parks were free - I think that the earlier ones must have been that they were near Riga.
At the pleasant little town of Salacgriva, Adrian finally got an internet connection, and we were able to read the message from Tom, saying that he was in Morocco. We were opposite a Tourist Information, and I suggested that we go and see if they had a map of Estonia. Unfortunately they hadn’t, but we met an inspirational couple there. They were Belgian, and were cycling with their little 18 month old son Gaston from Belgium to St Petersburg! From there they were flying home. They had a ‘chariot’ on the back of one bike for Gaston to sleep in - made in Canada like the one Simon and Laure had for Manolo & Millie - and a seat on the front so that he could see. They set off, with Gaston, with his blue eyes and blond curly hair, sitting up front. We wished them luck!
This unassuming town is set at the mouth of the River Salaca. We stopped to have our cup of tea beside the old lighthouse.
The Old Lighthouse at Salacgriva
A bit further on, we stopped by a parking area with picnic tables, and a sign saying that it was a nature reserve. There was a map of a trail through the woods to a viewpoint by the sea. As this is the first time we’ve come across anything like this, we thought it would be nice. We didn’t get far though, as biting insects attacked us, so we went scurrying back to the van.
We were now nearing the border with Estonia, but near the last little town, Ainazi, we came to a large carpark, where we pulled in with the intention of staying for the night. It was a longish walk on a sandy path through the dunes to the beach, which wasn’t as attractive as others, having grungy weed at the water’s edge.
The beach at Ainazi
On our walk back, we saw a small thin snake in the sand.
Later another motorhome joined us. They were from Austria, and were also travelling to St Petersburg.